Heading into the 2013 NHL Draft, the Florida Panthers had one of the deeper and more talented groups of prospects in the NHL, including the recent Calder Trophy winner Jonathan Huberdeau. With eight picks, including the second overall, the team needed to address several deficiencies in their depth chart, the most notable being a center to run the first-line offense and distribute the puck to Huberdeau.
Aleksander Barkov, C, Tappara Tampere (SM-liiga)
1st Round, 2nd Overall
Height: 6'2 Weight: 172
A junior-aged player excelling in the elite Finnish league is a rarity. Even rarer is a 17-year-old center not only making a team, but clearly outpacing, out-thinking, and outscoring players in his country's top league, many of whom have 10 years or more of professional hockey seniority. Barkov did all of that and more over the past season.
Barkov scored 21 goals and 27 assists in 53 SM-Liiga games and ended the year among the league's top-10 scorers, despite being one of the youngest players in his draft class. Unfortunately, he suffered a shoulder injury early in the playoffs, and ended the season with surgery to repair the damage. All indications are that he is recovering fine and that there should be no future problems.
Barkov is a player with exceptional hockey sense and the stick skills that enable him to follow through on the opportunities that only he can uncover. He has the innate ability to slow everything down, use his strength on his skates to ward off defenders and shield the puck, and deliver pinpoint passes to players moving at full speed. He can shoot too, and has a wide arsenal of shots available to him, however his crisp and accurate wrist shot is his most devastating weapon.
He may not have blazing straight-line speed and he will not be the player to blow past defenders, but that does not mean he is a bad skater. Instead, he has extraordinary balance and quick lateral agility. He maintains momentum through his turns and makes up for his lack of speed by being in the right place on the ice before other players recognize where that place will be.
Barkov will be the perfect companion to Huberdeau, and the two should provide incredible highlight-reel plays for years to come.
Hockey's Future shot video of Barkov at the 2013 NHL Draft. You can view his extended remarks in this HF video.
At the top of the second round, the Panthers added a smart, two-way defenseman. In 52 games in the USHL, McCoshen scored 11 goals and added 33 assists, and his production rate made him the league's second-best scorer from the blue line.
He is best in his own zone, showing good positioning and a fierce resolve to keep attackers away from his net. He has a nasty disposition, and will do what is necessary to dissuade opposing forwards from getting to the crease. He hits hard, and is effective with his physical play.
McCoshen also has offensive skills however, and knows when to use it, whether through a strong outlet pass or in joining the rush. As with most defensemen his age, the 17-year-old needs experience to develop into a professional-quality blueliner. The good news is that he will be joining fellow Panthers prospect and last year's first-round pick Mike Matheson at Boston College this fall, where he will have plenty of opportunity in a great defensive program to learn the game. Playing for the Eagles could also give McCoshen and Matheson a chance to develop some chemistry which could serve the Panthers well in the near future.
Evan Cowley, G, Wichita Falls Wildcats (NAHL)
4th round, 92nd Overall
Height: 6'4 Weight: 190
At last year's draft, GM Dale Tallon and his scouts selected a player (Alexander Delnov) so far off the radar that he had to be added to the NHL's draft book in order for the selection to be complete. Although he did not go that obscure this year, Tallon once again looked beyond the normal channels for finding talented players and turned to Wichita Falls of the NAHL for Evan Cowley. A quick goaltender with NHL size, Cowley is raw and will need time to further learn the position and develop his technique. Cowley has played for Team USA and had relative success during the NAHL top prospects tournament where he posted a .953 saves percentage in a small sample of games. He will be joining the University of Denver and fellow Panthers goaltending prospect Sam Brittain this fall.
Michael Downing, D, Dubuque Fighting Saints (USHL)
4th round, 97th Overall
Height: 6'3 Weight: 190
Five picks later in the fourth round, Tallon selected a big, tough-minded defenseman who can skate. Downing is a defenseman first, but he does have some offensive firepower because of his rocket shot. Although he needs to refine his play in his own end and develop a more patient use of his strength and skating, he has the raw skillset and skating ability to become an NHL defenseman in a few years.
Downing will be joining the Michigan Wolverines in the fall.
With the second of back-to-back fourth-round picks, the Panthers again showed their penchant for large players, and dipped into the Canadian Junior A ranks for a two-way winger. Buckles is not the flashiest player, and will not be expected to provide a lot of offensive at the professional level, but he is a hardworking, two-way player.
Buckles scored 40 goals and 31 assists in 50 games last season for Saint Michael's, tops on his team and eighth overall in the league. He also led his team with 107 penalty minutes (17th overall in the OJHL). He will honor his commitment to Cornell for the upcoming season.
Hockey's Future shot video of Cowley, Downing, and Buckles at the 2013 NHL Draft. You can view their extended remarks in this HF video.
In the fifth round, the Panthers selected a 19-year-old left-wing scorer from the QMJHL. Clapperton went undrafted last year in his initial year of eligibility, but he followed that disappointment with a 34-goal season for the Armada. Clapperton faces an uphill battle in trying to advance his career to the NHL. He has good tools, but is limited by his size and a lack of speed. He has a good feel for the game, and makes up for his deficiencies with hard work.
Florida chose another overage player in the sixth round. This time, they selected a 6'4 defensive-defenseman from the OHL, Josh Brown. In 114 games for Oshawa over the last two seasons, Brown has yet to score a regular-season goal and has just 20 assists. He was a solid, middle-pair defenseman for the Generals, however, and wound up the year second on the team in penalty minutes. He also enjoyed a nice, but short, playoff season by scoring his first OHL goal and registering five points in nine games.
Mackenzie Weegar, D, Halifax Mooseheads (QMJHL)
7th round, 206th Overall
Height: 5'11 Weight: 183
Late in the day, the Panthers took a third overage player, a small but smart and efficient defenseman from the best team in Canadian junior hockey. Weegar was a rookie for the Mooseheads last season, but still managed to score 44 points (eight goals and 36 assists) in 62 games. Perhaps just as impressive was his team-best plus-55 rating. Although he lacks top-end skills, his positional ability, high hockey intelligence and his knack for simply making the right play makes Weegar an intriguing draft pick.